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Rashi on Bereshis 41:55 says

what he tells you, do: Since Joseph had ordered them to circumcise themselves, and when they came to Pharaoh and said, “This is what he said to us,” he (Pharaoh) said to them, “Why didn’t you gather grain? Didn’t he announce to you that years of famine were coming?” They replied, “We gathered much, but it rotted.” He (Pharaoh) replied,“If so, do whatever he tells you. He issued a decree upon the grain, and it rotted. What if he issues a decree upon us and we die?” - [from Mid. Tanchuma Mikeitz 7, Gen. Rabbah 91:5]

Why did Yosef order them to do that?

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B'reishis Rabba (90:6) indicates that Yosef's decree was designed to provide the Egyptians not only with life in this world, via physical sustenance, but with life in the World to Come which they could merit via circumcision.

The Y'fei To'ar commentary (ad loc. and on 91:5) explains this by saying that the Egyptians were steeped in sexual immorality, of which their foreskins were emblematic. By removing the foreskin, the Egyptians lost their symbol of promiscuity. Yosef intended that circumcision would thus temper the promiscuity within Egyptian society.

Another suggestion of the Y'fei To'ar is that Yosef wanted to make it easier for exceptional individuals who would later decide to convert and join the Jewish people. Because the ordeal of a circumcision can be a difficult hurdle for a prospective convert to surmount, Yosef forced all Egyptians to be circumcised to remove an obstacle from the path of individuals who would want to convert.

The Maharazu (91:5) provides an alternative explanation for Yosef's decree. He says that divine blessing and salvation from famine came to Egypt and the surrounding countries via Yosef's extraordinary merit, which derived from his repulsing the advances of Potiphar's wife. This merit was symbolized by the covenant and circumcision of Avraham. Thus, it would be incongruous for Egypt to enjoy this merit without likewise undergoing the process of circumcision.

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    Following on from this. This weeks sidra 'acharai' says the Jews lived in Goshen the worst possible place in Egypt for immorality. The midrash says that means men married men. Why is it that Jacob chose to live there. – cham May 1 '15 at 9:55
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    @cham That's an interesting question, and it is discussed here. – Fred May 1 '15 at 18:34
  • Thank you very much. I had my own answer based on that it was like that before the Jews settled there but now I see I was wrong. – cham May 3 '15 at 5:15
  • @Fred where does it explicitly state that "foreskin" = "symbol of promiscuity"? I want to make sure that I am not confusing your commentary with the commentary of our sages. I actually believe that "foreskin" = "symbol of promiscuity", but I want to make sure I source it correctly. – ninamag Sep 26 '17 at 6:05
  • @Fred "B'reishis Rabba (90:6) indicates that Yosef's decree was designed to provide the Egyptians not only with life in this world, via physical sustenance, but with life in the World to Come which they could merit via circumcision." So, two questions: did the circumcised Egyptians becomes Jews; if yes, or no, why? Second one, so it was for the purpose of Teshuvah that Joseph demanded they be circumcised? – ninamag Sep 26 '17 at 6:08
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One explanation, given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, paraphrased here, is that he thought his position as viceroy made them in a subservient position and obligated in circumcision just like all Jewish slaves.

Another explanation that I saw once (don't remember where) is that he wanted to lessen the animosity towards his family (he was preparing the situation for them to be able to come to Egypt, as he was expecting that result) and not have them made fun of by the Egyptians for being circumcised.

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